Chinese Newspaper Editor Cites Problems of Government Control Over Media

October 25, 2004

Hao Keyuan, Editor-in-Chief of the Yilu Evening News, one of China's largest newspapers, has written an article entitled "Twelve Major Changes in Running a Newspaper." The article outlines “new concepts” in publishing newspapers in China, and item seven on the list is "Although one must submit to controls, one must nevertheless try to achieve something meaningful." This item begins by conceding that government censorship (what the author refers to as "news administration") exists, and is a problem:

Every country has ways of administering the news industry, and this kind of administration is normal and necessary. However, in China people do not object to unified propaganda discipline, and the problem is that when some local Communist Party and government [officials] carry out news administration, they are far too subjective, and excessively interfere in many aspect of the news. Often what is done is according to some senior official's personal opinion, and reflects their bias.

Although the author’s discussion of censorship is noteworthy, he limits his criticisms to local Party and government officials, and is careful not to criticize China’s censorship system itself. Indeed, the author’s comment that "every country has ways of administering the news industry" is a generalization that many commentators in China use to defend China’s oppression of free speech, and obfuscate the fact that China's “administration” system is actually a “censorship” system. These comments also ignore China's extensive publishing regulatory system, which gives nation-wide censorship powers to central government and Party organizations such as the General Administration of Press and Publication and the Central Propaganda Department. The discussion also outlines how editors and reporters in China are forced to adopt creative measures to circumvent government censorship (which, again, the author is only willing to admit exists at the local level):

While there are strong taboos on news about local [government or Party] or private businesses, reporters nevertheless increasingly know how to choose their angle when writing. When something cannot be criticized, the reporter approaches it from a complimentary angle. They don't write about accidents, they write about rescuing people. They don't write about thieves running rampant, they write about police heroism in capturing criminals. When they cannot write news, they write editorials. If they cannot discuss an issue in their locale, then they approach the issue in the context of another place. In the end, if they fail completely, they can always pass on the story (or the actual report) to another media [outlet], and wait for them to publish it and reprint their story.